The Constitutional Convention
The Constitutional Convention The debate at the Constitutional Convention was quite intense and involved some different issues and arguments. Much of the debate centered around states’ representation in what would become the Federal Government. Here we will address two of them: the debate over proportional representation that was eventually settled with “The Great Compromise” and the debate over whether slaves should count towards a state’s population.
The first one was primarily a debate between small and large states. The Virginia plan, as proposed by James Madison, originally had the Congress’s composition determined by the size of a state’s population. The larger the state, the more representatives they got to send to Congress. They argued this would be the fairest and reflective of the population. Smaller states, such as New Jersey submitted their plan aptly called, “The New Jersey Plan.” This plan distributed the same number of representatives to each state. They argued it would protect them from being crushed by larger, more populous states. As it turns out, this debate raged for weeks and weeks and was not settled until the Connecticut Compromise, also called The Great Compromise. This agreement modified the Virginia plan. Originally the plan called for a bicameral legislature where the lower house would elect members of the upper house. The Great Compromise instead made the composition of the lower house, the House of Representatives decided by proportional representation. The Upper house, the Senate, would be allotted two representatives, elected by states legislatures until the 17th amendment, who were effectively independent agents. This compromise was quite effective at resolving the conflict between the two factions.
The other major debate at the Convention was over slavery, specifically if slaves should count towards a state’s representation in Congress. The Southern states, which had a large slave population, wanted all the slaves to count towards their representation in Congress. Northern states had fewer slaves, some had abolished the practice entirely within their borders. Most Northern states did not want slaves to be counted at all since some delegates, such as Alexander Hamilton, viewed the practice in an extremely negative light and would have abolished the practice entirely if they could have. Debate on this issue was fairly heated. Eventually the aptly named “three-fifths compromise” was reached. Slaves, or as the Constitution phrased it, “those bound to service for a term of years,” would count as three-fifths of a person. Though this compromise was enough to permit the adoption of the Constitution, the issues associated with slavery were not resolved until the Civil War and the passage of the 13th amendment.